National Planning Framework slammed as ‘Dublin-centric’

The draft National Planning Framework Ireland 2040 plan developed by Government has been described as “Dublin-centric and lacking ambition for rural Ireland”, according to Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Environment chairman Thomas Cooney.

Commenting on the plan, Cooney said: “The Government’s aspiration to develop a planning framework out to 2040 in a balanced and coherent way fails rural Ireland.”

This, he said, is particularly the case in addressing four vital areas: the decline of rural towns and villages; the need to rebalance development towards the regions; the need for rural housing; and supporting community-based renewable energy development.

In a submission to Government, the IFA has called for a number of measures to be implemented, to drive the potential and ambition for an alternative to the “Dublin” strategy. Based on the four key areas mentioned by Cooney, the IFA outlined the following alternatives.

To reverse the decline of rural towns and villages

New business start-ups should receive incentives – such as exemptions from rates – for an initial time period and relief from capital gains tax, to encourage innovation and enterprise, the farmers’ group said.

In addition, double tax relief should be provided on rental expenditure for businesses establishing in rural towns and villages, according to the organisation.

A condition for a valid planning application for an out-of-town development must include an obligation to demonstrate how all scenarios, including locating in the village or town centre, were first considered.

To rebalance development towards the regions

In a topical issue, the IFA is calling for the swift delivery by Government of the Rural Broadband Scheme, which must ensure that every home, school and business in rural Ireland has access at a universal price to high-speed fibre broadband – no matter where they are located.

The delivery of this measure alone, will reduce the necessity to commute long distances to work and purchase more expensive dwellings in urban locations, the IFA claims.

On rural housing

The IFA proposes that the Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines for Planning Authorities must be revised and put on a statutory footing.

These guidelines should provide that local authorities would grant planning permission for farm families who wish to live and work in their local community, and extended family members who have an intrinsic link with their rural area.

To support farm sale and community based renewable energy production

On this issue, the IFA proposes that:
  • Government must introduce statutory legislation, which places legal set-back distances for renewable projects from sensitive properties, including family homes, schools and villages;
  • A national planning policy must be developed for community energy projects, which facilitates renewable projects that have community participation, farm scale and roof-mounted projects;
  • Similar to other EU member states, farm scale and roof-top renewable projects should be exempt from planning requirements.

Regarding the absence of policy direction on renewable energy planning policy in the draft plan, the association stated that this must be addressed in the final plan – to provide the necessary assurances and certainty for farmers and the wider rural community.

The IFA has expressed concern at the “erroneous introduction” of the UK concept of ‘Open Countryside’ into the draft plan.

Cooney said: “While voluntary schemes are developed with bodies such as Comhairle na Tuaithe and others in Ireland, there is no common law ‘right to roam’ across the countryside.

Any implied or otherwise rights or entitlements should be removed from the document.

Concluding, Cooney said: “Government must review the existing draft plan and achieve the rural-proofing of policy they aspire to and deliver a truly national planning framework for the next two decades which is about more than Dublin.”

Opposition TDs object to Ireland 2040 plan

A number of TDs have also objected to the draft plan in its current form.

The group of TDs – called the ‘Coalition Against the National Planning Framework’ – consists of Labour Party Health spokesperson Alan Kelly, independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice, Fianna Fail Rural Affairs spokesman Eamon O’Ciuv and Sinn Fein Housing spokesman Eoin O Broin.

The group members have come together over the last month due to “shared frustrations and concerns” over the 20-year infrastructure investment plan for the country – which is being prepared by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.